One of the side-effects of 2019 having been a stonkingly good year so far for new albums of a blues/roots rock complexion – and it really has been – is that when you come across an album that doesn’t really cut the mustard, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Which I’m afraid is the case with this third album by Southern California based singer/guitarist Diana Rein. Another time, and it might have slid by with me saying, “Well, it’s okay, y’know.” But it’s not another time, and I'm not going to.
|Diana Rein - nice flares|
The other week the YouTube video of the title track from Queen Of My Castle was posted in a Facebook group, and someone commented “Nice voice”. Hmm, nice. Sounds like a compliment I suppose. But “nice” doesn’t really fit the bill when you’re singing the blues. Doesn’t really suggest passion, grit, despair or sex, does it? Being honest, I’d describe Diana Rein’s voice as “ordinary”, or maybe “pedestrian”. Oh, she hits all the notes, but she spends most of this album singing in the same register, without much variation on the melody, or in her phrasing – or at least not enough to seriously get my attention. Then I take a glance at her website, which refers to “her sultry and powerful vocals reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and Bonnie Raitt”. And I gotta tell you folks, that comparing Diana Rein’s vocals to those two ladies is downright blasphemous.
Her website then goes on to talk about “a guitar style that has been compared to the likes of BB King with the tone of Stevie Ray Vaughan”. And I think to myself, “What the actual fuck?!”
Alright, an SRV influence is discernible here and there on this album. But that’s as far as it goes. Let me tell you, I listened to Queen Of My Castle the other day, and then as I sat down at the keyboard I stuck on In Step, and any comparison between those two albums is distant in the extreme. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s peanuts compared to the distance between Diana Rein and Stevie Ray Vaughan. (And yes, discerning readers will spot that I nicked that line. But I wouldn’t have the gall to compare my writing to the guy who originated it.)
But hey, what about the songs? Well yeah, most of ‘em are okay. A few are even quite good. But there are fifteen of ‘em. Did Diana Rein and her producer Michael Leasure – yes, Walter Trout’s drummer – really believe that they all deserved to be trotted out here? A key competence for any recording artist, I reckon, is being able to kill their babies – to recognise when that song they’ve laboured over really isn’t up to snuff and needs to be binned. So yeah, ‘The Midnight Line’ is an okay chunk of 12-bar chug-a-boogie, apparently inspired by Magic Sam, and with some Stevie Ray chordings in the intro, while ‘One Foot In’ has a decent revolving riff. But there’s an awful lot of filler across the first half of the album that should have been trimmed.
Thankfully Rein finds some other clubs in her bag thereafter, peaking with the swinging, ringing retro-bop of ‘Get Down’, on which she employs a lower, huskier vocal pitch and discovers her wah-wah pedal to good effect. The heavier groove and layered guitar licks of ‘Heat’ also deserve mention, and the closing instrumental ‘Zoe’ is a seriously good affair, reflective and chiming and evocative.
Queen Of My Castle isn’t actually a bad album. It’s just not really a good album. And that needs to be said, even if one takes no pleasure in doing it.
Queen Of My Castle is available now from Gulf Coast Records.
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